JOPLIN, Mo. —
Ronald Metz’s fingers fold pinched-off portions of a skinny, blue balloon, wrapping and squeezing them until the balloon ends up looking like a tail-wagging pooch.
Like a good typist, his eyes never stray down to the work being done by his hands. Rather, he carries on a conversation about the art of balloon twisting as he completes a second animal -- this one a horse -- in just under 20 seconds.
Now, that’s pretty fast. But Metz shrugs at the remark.
“If you entertain kids and keep their attention, you can take a bit longer to make a balloon animal,” he said. “But if you’re twisting and not really interacting with the children, then yeah, you definitely have to be fast.”
How does Metz avoid popping the balloons?
“Well, I’ve popped a few on occasion,” he said, laughing. “Most kids like it. But when it does happen, you just make a joke about it and move on.”
Metz is a professional balloon twister. He plies his trade annually at Landreth Park during Fourth of July festivities and also makes appearances at business expo conventions.
The Balloon Guy
He earned the nickname “the Balloon Guy” from trick-or-treaters whom he’d ask each Halloween to choose from one of two bowls -- one filled with candy, the other with balloons.
“(I gave) out eight to nine balloon animals to every piece of candy,” Metz said.
But this retired Joplin mail carrier and U.S. Army veteran is much more than just a creator of balloon-shaped giraffes, pirate swords and long-stemmed roses. He’s also a clown.
Or rather, two clowns.
“I’ve been a clown since 1993,” Metz said. “I was at a church retreat, and the theme that year was dressing up and performing skits as clowns. And I’ve been clowning around since then.”
From there, Metz made visits to clown camps in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Branson. His work there helped him perfect a light Auguste Clown named “Pastyr Funybone,” as well as a Tramp clown known as “Clarence T. Funybone.” Both have made numerous appearances throughout the Four-State area over the years, including both Joplin hospitals.
Seeing people both young and old break out in smiles and cheers, he said, is ultimately why he does what he does.